After the melancholy days of the first week of the Lenten fast, a joyous celebration radiates. A day of gladness hath dawned in the season of mourning, and with its light it hath dispersed the gloominess thereof (Matins, 1st Saturday). Already we taste the victory Christians obtain by and through the observance of the Fast. This day is a festal occasion. Today, we remember the miracle by koliva which St. Theodore the Recruit committed during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate. During the first week of the Fast, the impious emperor conspired with the military authorities of Constantinople to sprinkle blood from animals sacrificed to idols on wheat, and thereby defile the Christians who would break the fast on the first Saturday of Great Lent. St. Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxios of Constantinople and warned him that the Christians must obtain and boil koliva instead. The Faith of Christ conquered the pagan emperor, and to this day we celebrate this miracle on the first Saturday of Great Lent as a victory of Orthodoxy. Indeed, this celebration serves as an introduction for the greater triumph or victory of Orthodoxy commemorated tomorrow, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy: the victory of the Church over those who deny the veneration of the holy icons.
How is it possible, in our time, for Orthodoxy to continue to be victorious? Through the efforts of each one of us. The Church is not buildings or structures, committees, or conferences. The Church is the elect people of God, a holy nation and royal priesthood called out from the world to live Christ’s life in the world. We are called to incarnate Christ in our hearts, to live His holy Passion and to be witnesses to His Resurrection. We sing at the Saturday night Vigil that we have beheld the Resurrection of Christ. Yet how many of us comprehend the ramifications of these bold statements? How many live by and through the Resurrection? Or how many of us live as if the Resurrection did not occur? Perhaps some of us run in vain? Perhaps if not executed with the right spirit, we will also run the course of the Lenten fast and the sum total of our Christians lives in vain? And then the ancient saying in the Psalms will come true for us: Their days were wasted in vanity and their years in terror.
Through the prayers of St. Theodore, may we be recalled from such a terrible fate. Let us adorn our hearts with Christ’s Faith—exactly as did St. Theodore. We laud him as one Placing the Faith of Christ as a shield in the heart. Let us also be conscious Christians who operate not according to the laws of men but the ultimate law of God. This does not mean that Christians are not called to obey the civil laws. Christians must be obedient to the civil authorities for every authority comes from God, as St. Paul teaches. Yet the law of God supersedes men’s laws, and men’s laws must reflect the eternal truths of the Gospel. This is why the Christians of Constantinople were not necessarily bound to obey every command of their apostate emperor; this is also why God eventually deprived the aforementioned emperor of his office by allowing his death to occur in battle with the Persians. Indeed, this is also why, in the Old Testament, God deprived Saul of the right to rule.
Faith, in the end, operates as an eternal witness to the eternal Truth, which is the God-Man, Christ. He is King and Lord and He will subdue everything to His feet. He will defeat every enemy. The final enemy which He will defeat is death, the ultimate frontier or obstacle for man which sets the limits of this physical reality. St. Theodore burning with the Orthodox Faith destroyed the false teaching and the godless idols. He is rightly named Theodore, that is, God’s gift to the Church, for in him the Gospel is exemplified and mountains and boundaries are moved by faith. Should we also not, during the course of this Great Lent, work to obtain the faith St. Theodore had? This can only occur if we repent in an intimate, interior manner before Him Who knows the secrets of men’s hearts. And with true repentance, with the fruits of faith multiplying in our lives, we also will become living and bountiful olive trees in the house of our God.